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Speak like your customers

Countdown decided this month to tell its customers that they should refer to tampons and such like as “period products”. It is changing aisle labelling to remove stigma from periods and that “words are powerful” in doing that, especially for young women.

Yes, words are powerful, but in far more complex ways than Countdown appears to appreciate – and in ways that make its showy decision pointless.

Words are created by an ever-shifting interplay of social morality and values. You can’t beat those realities by changing a word – you have to change the values.

Although we champion plain speaking and hate tired language, there is a purpose to euphemisms in everyday life. Phrases that use indirect words to describe something (like ‘passing’ for death) politely recognise a range of values and sensitivities in a pluralistic society. I might be happy to talk about periods, but someone else, for reasons good or bad, might not. In Orwell’s 1984 the Syme, a sycophant to authority, enjoyed the destruction of all unnecessary words and despised “useless shades of meaning”. It seems strange that a supermarket with a customer-base stretching across the spectrum of pluralistic values base would similarly not appreciate the cross-cultural value of vagueness.

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